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Posts Tagged ‘authors for middle schoolers

Laura Toffler-Corrie, author of The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz , graciously agreed to both allow me to interview her and to write a guest blog. Last week I posted our interview. What follows is her guest blog on the how-to’s of writing humor.

As a person who writes humorous books, I‘m often asked these basic questions: How do you do it? Is it hard? What’s the formula? Is there a formula? And how can I do it? My answers are typically straightforward: I don’t exactly know. Sometimes. Don‘t have one. Probably not a good one. You can try.

The End.

Just kidding!

But seriously folks, comedy is a funny business, mostly because everyone loves to laugh. Now, of course, some people are funnier than others; some are stand up comedian funny, and some just think they are, but everyone cracks a few funny jokes now and then. So then can almost everyone write funny? The answer is a decisive maybe yes, maybe no. It‘s often an elusive ability. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. But before you get too annoyed by my opinion, I will say this about that: if you want to write humor, you should certainly try and, if you follow my humble guidelines, you have a better shot of pulling it off (in my humble opinion).

Did I mention that I mean this in the most humble way possible?

Anyway, here goes:

Read Work From Funny Authors:

And not just current, living authors either. Dead authors can be very amusing too, oft reminding us that people have been cracking each other up for centuries. Plus, with dead authors, there’s virtually no chance of being subjected to pesky, inferior sequels. Writers such as Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Woody Allen, (yes he’s written books too) Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Joe Orton are a good place to start. In kidslit, some humorous books I like are Amelia Bedelia, Junie B. Jones, The Princess Diaries, Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Eighth Grade Super Zero, and Emma Lazarus Fell from a Tree. Of course there are many more.

And don’t be a funny snob (meaning, a snob about what’s funny). See classic, funny movies (which, presumably, started as scripts) by the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. Plus, see silly movies like Sixteen Candles and Zombie land. Of course, there are dozens more of these too.

Listen to the Way People Really Talk:

People rarely ever say what they mean in a straightforward way. As a matter of fact, the thing that makes soap opera writing seem melodramatic is that the conversations are too on the nose. Real people talk in riddles, metaphors, innuendos and often at cross purposes. There’s lots of room for funny in that.

Don’t be ‘Jokey’:

Ironically, most jokes are not funny in humor writing. With all due respect to the writers of Disney type comedy shows, that kind of forced, trying too hard to be funny humor mostly doesn’t work (even with charming, cute teen stars selling it). You can be sure that jokey humor will certainly not work in a book (especially minus the teen stars interpreting the words).

Put Characters at Odds with Each Other and their Environment:

Set up a situation that organically has the potential to be funny. For example, In AMY FINAWITZ, there’s a scene where the boy Amy crushes on comes over for a study date. Then her father answers the door in his bathroom. Then her brother arrives with a gaggle of obnoxious musical theater friends. Then Amy’s elderly neighbor and her very religious nephew come calling for her. Now, if I couldn’t make that scene funny, than I’m an idiot.

Recognize the Absurdities in People:

We all want stuff, but mostly there are obstacles to what we want. I don’t mean world peace, although that would be nice, I mean the little things we sweat over and how we handle them. Start recognizing the silly absurdities and contradictions in people. Even someone wanting a long line to move faster can be funny. Pay attention to the details.


Play Nice:

Making fun of people is rarely funny, at least to me. Certainly this kind of humor will not float in kidslit. True humor comes from understanding people and having compassion for them. That’s what makes good humor universal. It should come from the heart.

As an avid reader, I participate in various online book groups. GoodReads is one group to which I belong. As a member, I regularly participate in their giveaway competition to win Advanced Reader Copies of new books. In August, I received The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie. It is about two middle-school girls who stay in touch through email, a former librarian senior citizen, a conservative Jewish boy, a nerdish jock, and several normal characters with normal abilities, normal faults, and normal lives. I loved it, naming it one of my favorite finds of the year.

Laura T-C 190In December, author Laura Corrie-Toffler graciously agreed to both allow me to interview her and to write a guest blog. What follows is our interview. Please come back next week for her guest blog on the how-to’s of writing humor.

Allison: You grew up in New York City, which is also Amy’s hometown. What are your best and worst experiences as a New Yorker?

Laura: Actually, I grew up on Long Island, but visited the city often and lived in Greenwich Village during college. It’s a great question, though. I’ve had many of both!

Worst experience: One day on the subway, I didn‘t realize that the guy sitting next to me was kind of drunk and half asleep. When the subway screeched to a stop, however, he keeled over and his head landed, plop, right in my lap! Everyone cracked up, but I was astonished and mortified. Fortunately, the fall woke him. He sat up muttering ‘sorry,‘ but, needless to say, I quickly changed seats.

Best experience: So many, but I’ll tell you another subway story. I was on the train with these scary, rowdy boys. At each stop, people ran off, so I decided to get off too; I figured that I’d swing around into another car. But as I rushed out, one of the boys yelled, “Hey you!” I thought he was gonna mug/kill me, but he just smiled and said, “You forgot your purse.” Then he handed it to me and jumped back onto the train. It was such a nice New York moment! Unfortunately, I was so ashamed for assuming the worst of these guys, I walked the rest of the way home!

Allison: Why did you chose for Callie to move to Kansas? What knowledge or experiences of the Midwest did you draw upon?

Laura: The truth is, I have absolutely no knowledge or experiences of the Midwest, which is why I think Amy’s assumptions about Kansas are funny. She draws on images from Laura Ingalls Wilder books and her own ethnocentric feelings about being a New Yorker. I chose Kansas because it seems very far away, and I imagine it to be very different from New York city. I’m sure it’s a great place though, and I recently discovered that I have relatives there. So maybe I’ll visit one day.

Allison: Your main characters are Jewish. Why did you decide to integrate religion into your novel? Did your references to religion effect your abilities to find a publisher?

Laura: Although I’m not that religious, being Jewish is part of my identity, and Amy is a character close to my heart and personality. So she just came out that way, as did many of the other characters, who are based on some friends and relatives. The process of integrating religion developed when I discovered an intriguing, little known story about American Jewish history, and I decided to build the book’s mystery around it. Of course, once I added the character of very religious Beryl, it was fun to play with the relationship between him and Amy and their views about religion. Ironically, I never thought the Jewish element would help or hinder my chances for publication. I just hoped people would like it and feel it had universal appeal. Turns out I was right in that, even though my agent is Jewish, my editor (who liked the book enough to buy it) is not. So, go figure!

Allison: Why did you decide to write a book for the middle-school age group? What current middle school books do you like the most?

Laura: I wasn’t consciously aiming for the middle grade market at the time. Amy’s voice and the story just flowed that way, and I knew I liked the genre. There are classic MG’s I like from authors such as Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Madeline L’engle, E.L. Konisberg, Sydney Taylor. As for current books, I especially like ‘The Penderwick Chronicles,’ ‘Emma Lazarus Fell From a Tree,’ ‘Shakespeare’s Secret,’ ‘Stargirl,’ ‘Crispin, the Cross of Lead,’ and ‘Neil Armstrong is my Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man Mcginty Told Me,’ to name a few.

Allison: In your blog, ’Get to the Point,’ you referred to being told to ‘go back and revise’ and receiving offers to re-submit once you cut about 40,000 words. What wonderful scenes have we missed because of those cuts? How do you feel about the revision process?

Laura: I’m pretty certain that what was cut probably deserved to go; mostly parts about the mystery that dragged the story. There was, however, a cute play about Emus that got cut. Their names were Shmuey and Moishe. They sounded like old guys, lived on the plains and spent the day complaining and pontificating about religion. Maybe I’ll find a place for that scene one day! Regarding revision, I think that every writer fantasizes hearing ‘your work is perfect as is!‘ but I actually like the revision process. My editor is awesome. I believe that her keen eye and supportive suggestions absolutely make my work stronger.

Allison: What are you working on next?

Laura: My next book is a YA, tentatively titled, THE ACCIDENTAL SAINTHOOD OF JENNA BLOOM, and is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2011, also by Roaring Brook Press, MacMillan. It has a supernatural element but is humorous, in that it spoofs the genre.

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